Posted in Innovation, journalism, multimedia journalist

How Does Online Hyperlocal News Work?

From Andrew Humphrey, CBM
Founder & Co-Chair, NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force
Meteorologist & Station Scientist, WDIV-TV | ClickOnDetroit.com

The MIT Enterprise Forum held a fascinating panel discussion about online hyperlocal news at New York Times headquarters in the Big Apple last week. The panel included representatives from The New York Times, Patch.com, AlternativePress.com and Outside.In.  All of them were optimistic about their survival as a crucial component of the future of journalism, but most conceded there is a challenge of earning revenue and increasing profits.

The presentations provided insight into how these organizations decide on the geographic locations they cover.  Patch.com president Warren Webster (left) said he and his team, including creator, ex-Google executive and now AOL head Tim Armstrong, analyze good old-fashioned U.S. Census data.  The distinctive criteria he highlighted were per capita income of an area’s residents and their projected advertising dollars available.  The greater the worth of a community, the more likely it would have a journalist dedicated to derive news.

Hyperlocal reporters came from various, yet still limited areas.  The New York Times’ Jim Schacter (left) said when it wanted to jump into the super-precise news preparation world, it realized they already had employees who live in the areas it want to cover (e.g., Fort Greene, Clinton Hill).  AlternativePress.com founder & chief Michael Shapiro (right) said he partners with local journalism and communications schools where the students are reporters.  The New York Times has teamed up with City University of New York, New York University and other colleges & universities.

As for cultivating sources, each of the panelists recognized the value of establishing relationships with local community organizers, businesspersons, politicians, etc.  Outside.In’s CEO Mark Josephson was unavailable.  In his place, Business Development Vice President Camilla Cho (right) said their company has an computer algorithm that scans social media and breaks down local blogs to find out who the hyperlocale’s hyper-communicators are.

The information in their presentations left me with glaring, nagging questions that I asked.  Essentially they were, “Are you concerned about short-changing poor people and poor communities?  If Patch’s hyperlocal coverage area is based on how much money it makes, isn’t it automatically cutting out poor areas?  Has AltPress considered using students from inner city media programs?  Is Outside.in susceptible to the digital divide where those with the most to say may not have the technological resources available at their fingertips because there is no money for schools, libraries or their programs?”

The only panelist with an answer close to but not quite adequate was Patch.com’s Warren Webster who mentioned his corporation’s non-profit arm Patch.org which seeks and makes donations in order to serve communities in need.  He expressed his hopes for the fulfillment of news coverage in impoverished areas in the future but could not specify when.  After the Q&A session, I was encouraged when approached I Michael Shapiro and Camilla Cho with my specific, successful experiences in Detroit.  Their openness and that of the rest of the panel and audience were a sign of hope for the financial profit of existing and soon-to-be hyperlocal news organizations, the informational profit of so-called disadvantaged districts and thus the universal profit of everyone.

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Author:

Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

3 thoughts on “How Does Online Hyperlocal News Work?

  1. I’m heading into a meeting next week with a coalition of concerned community org leaders who are advocates of the invisible Latino population in my county, which has doubled over the past decade and now makes up 20% of a school district population that has no Hispanic leaders, faculty or administrators. Their concerns to the school over the past year have been paid lip service and they are now working to get members elected to the school board. My role is as a media consultant helping them to build a hyperlocal foundation of credible media that will cover the issues and stories seldom approached by local traditional media. I welcome any suggestions on best practices, successful models to emulate, cautionary tales, etc. One of the members of this local coalition was appointed to the governor’s new education investment board. So, the likelihood is this endeavor will receive a high level of focus from a state policy perspective.

  2. Obviously this is something that I care very deeply about. Our mission is to “empower and inform underserved communities. We are looking to serve the very areas Patch excludes. Now I say that knowing that our audience is highly educated and majority white though most of our stories focus on African-Americans. But the 30% African American’s on the site make us 3X index for advertising to Black Americans. I’d dare to say that the 58% Anglo, 30% African American, 9% Latino, 3% Asian is about as diverse and audience as you’ll see anywhere on the web.

    These hyperlocals are not worried about diversity. Their worried about revenue. I’m worried about revenue too. But if people of color don’t want to be left behind, we’ve got to figure this out fast.

  3. Shawn brings up a good point. Revenue is a major challenge in hyperlocal news enterprises. That being said, the same is true of all startups, which hyperlocal news media all are.

    Shawn’s Dallas South News is a successful hyperlocal model that can only grow in the same manner that any successful local enterprise can grow: capital investment.

    But while MIT, Rutgers, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and others are holding conferences, symposiums, and behind-the-scenes meetings on the best approaches to media innovations, I don’t see the same activity occurring with HBCUs.

    The reason the Black Press was initiated and thrived during the early 20th century was due to the majority media owning the landscape and skipping over our communities. Welcome to the 21st century, when the exact same frontier is being established online. This time, however, we have access to the same tools and technologies. We also have significant capital resources within Black America.

    So what will be our excuse in five years when a mirror image of the 20th century media landscape exists in the digital realm? Where’s our R&D investment in digital innovation? Where’s our studies, data, published research on marketing, audience behavior and revenue opportunities?

    What are we doing to advance proven successful local models, like Shawn’s? How are we competing for market share?

    The forum held by MIT was attended by a lot of folks interested in this subject. What percentage of that audience represented Black-owned media?

    I don’t think I have all the answers to this mystery we’re all experiencing. But I do know that the activities conducted in trying to find the answers are missing one crucial element: us.

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